January 01, 2017

Is secondhand smoke dangerous to health?

Q: Is secondhand cigarette smoke dangerous to health?

A: Yes, it is. Secondhand smoke is a combination of the smoke coming from a burning cigarette and the smoke exhaled by the smoker, which spreads out to the surrounding space. Secondhand smoke contains the same toxic chemicals that are inhaled by smokers, including nicotine, carbon monoxide, benzene, formaldehyde, cyanide and a variety of cancer-causing substances. The effects of these chemicals are greater when inhaled directly from a cigarette but, nonetheless, the effects are still toxic secondhand.

Because secondhand smoke is a dynamic mixture that changes as it travels and mixes with the environment, it's hard to quantify its risk. In general, no amount of secondhand smoke is safe because of its inherent toxicity.

Evidence indicates that the secondhand smoke exposure that comes from living with a smoker can increase your risk of lung cancer by 20 to 30 percent. Secondhand smoke also increases your risk of coronary heart disease by 25 to 30 percent and can lead to a variety of health risks for children and pregnant women and their unborn babies.

As with active smoking, the greater the exposure and the longer the duration of exposure, the greater the risk of harm, especially for diseases such as lung cancer. However, even short-term exposures can worsen symptoms of asthma and coronary heart disease.

Unfortunately, air-cleaning devices or filters don't effectively clear the air of secondhand smoke. The only way to eliminate the risks of exposure is to eliminate smoking. In recent years, smoke-free legislation has greatly increased the number of public places...